The 2022 Aurora Prize Ceremony took place on San Lazzaro Island in Venice, Italy, on October 15, 2022. The event was designed to support the vital work of the new generation of saviors and to highlight the universal humanitarian values upheld by the global Aurora movement.
The guests arriving on the island were greeted by a photo exhibition dedicated to different Armenian religious sites from New York to Singapore and encouraging reflection on Armenian presence across the globe. They also had an opportunity to learn more about the history of the location, which has been home to the monastery of the Mekhitarists, an Armenian Catholic congregation, since 1717, when the Republic of Venice gifted it to the order that had been founded by Abbot Mekhitar of Sebaste 17 years prior. The Mekhitarists are best known for their series of scholarly publications of ancient Armenian versions of otherwise lost ancient Greek texts and their research on classical and modern Armenian language.
After that, the invitees enjoyed the Solidarity Concert by the internationally acclaimed Gurdjieff Ensemble conducted by Levon Eskenian. Leading Armenian musicians performing historical tunes joined forces to express their support for the 2022 Aurora Humanitarians, and their program for the evening included several pieces created by Komitas and the music of the highly venerated Armenian theologian, poet, philosopher, and musician Saint Gregory of Narek (Grigor Narekatsi).
Later, the guests moved on into the church where a prayer service was held with the members of the global Armenian Christian community, including Catholicos-Patriarch of the House of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church His Beatitude Raphaël Bedros Minassian, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, representative of the Armenian Church to the Holy See and Pontifical Legate of the Armenian Church in Western Europe, and Reverend Father Narek Naamoyan, Levonian College Director, who all took a moment to honor the universal humanitarian, educational, and spiritual values reflected in Aurora’s movement.
This was followed by a powerful spiritual concert celebrating the best of humanity thanks to inspiring gems of international and Armenian music performed by Gurdjieff Ensemble, Piccoli Cantori Veneziani Children Choir, and Isabel Bayrakdarian. As a highly sought-after soprano at opera houses and concert halls across the world, Lebanese-born Canadian-Armenian-American Isabel Bayrakdarian has become as celebrated for her beauty, presence, and style as for her strikingly multidimensional voice that is wholly in sync with the rest of her.
When the invitees returned to the patio, they were treated to an audiovisual performance titled “From the Children of Venice to the World” that centered around the Holy Mother of Sevan icon, known for its miracle-making properties. In 1692, then 16-year-old deacon Mekhitar of Sebaste spent 10 days on the Island of Sevan, Armenia. There, he prayed before this icon and had a vision of the Holy Mother who encouraged him to embark on the journey of creating the congregation by saying: “Let it be!”. The captivating experience also featured the Piccoli Cantori Veneziani Children Choir, one of the most renowned choirs in Venice established in 1973 and currently conducted by Diana D’Alessio.
The main event of the evening, the 2022 Aurora Prize Ceremony, took place in a pavilion in the garden of San Lazzaro and was hosted by journalist and novelist David Ignatius, Columnist of The Washington Post, and Dalia Atallah, UWC Dilijan Alumna and Amal Clooney Scholarship Fellow. The Ceremony brought together world’s top humanitarians, academics, philanthropists, business leaders, and civil society representatives.
“I can tell you, people sitting here, the Finalists and the Laureates, I'm so happy that I found and met all of you. Because for me, you are the moral leaders, you are the authorities for all of us, for the next generation, for the people who really admire and respect not just the numbers of your bank account, not just your titles, but being human,” noted Ruben Vardanyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Noôdome.
Last year, Aurora Co-Founder Vartan Gregorian passed away. To honor his memory, Isabel Bayrakdarian sang a simple, yet tender lullaby called “Rocking Song” from the region of Ani in historical Armenia. After this touching performance, Vartan’s son Raffi praised the impact Aurora has had on awakening humanity in the world by saying, “What does intergenerational transmission of humanity look like?” It looks like all of you. Not just the Aurora Humanitarians and Laureates, who risk their lives to save others, to lift up the downtrodden, the voiceless and the defenseless, to give them hope, but also to those who make this Prize possible.”
Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Co-Founder and Chairman of Moderna, and Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, added, “Vartan’s physical presence is deeply missed, but his emotional, intellectual, spiritual presence is with us, because he also left in us a continuous memory of his thoughts, which we can channel every time we talk,” before proceeding to announce the launch of the Vartan Gregorian Humanitarian Fund to ensure that Aurora will be a self-sustaining entity for years to come.
“I feel honored to work on this project and to make sure we have enough people in this movement to make this a long-lasting project, because there is no bigger honor and happiness than to meet all of the Humanitarians, all the Laureates, to hear about their work. Every day, we need something that makes us find hope, because the world news are not giving us that hope,” stated Anna Afeyan, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Afeyan Family Foundation.
Aurora Prize Selection Committee member Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also expressed her admiration with Vartan’s legacy and the fact that it would now be preserved: “Aurora is bringing together groups globally, and different kinds of groups, in a very inclusive way, and also, again, putting a lot of focus on young people. I love the intergenerational, and I think we can go further on that.”
Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, then entered the stage to present the courageous work of Jamila Afghani, Hadi Jumaan and Mahienour El-Massry who give access to education to girls and women in Afghanistan, liberate prisoners of war in Yemen, and defend human rights in Egypt. “Despite the risks and challenges, these Aurora Humanitarians put the lives and safety of others above all else. Their stories are a source of hope and inspiration in trying times, and it is an honor for us to recognize them this evening,” said Lord Darzi.
After that, it was announced that seventh annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was awarded to Jamila Afghani, an educator, human rights defender, and founder of the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO). Jamila has dedicated over 25 years of her life to giving the women of Afghanistan access to education. Unfortunately, despite all efforts, she couldn’t come to Venice attend the Aurora events in person but gave an emotional acceptance speech over Zoom.
“Sometimes, we believe that there is no humanity in this world anymore. But Aurora proves that humanity is still alive. And humanitarian actors do recognize the pain and suffering of the people of Afghanistan. And you stand beside us, and you extend your hand of help and support to the people of Afghanistan who are in need of it,” said Jamila Afghani.
The Laureate receives a $1,000,000 grant and a chance to continue the cycle of giving by supporting organizations that help people in need. This year, $300,000 of the Aurora Prize award funds will be directed to combat one of the most acute and overlooked humanitarian crises in Yemen, where human suffering requires urgent intervention. As 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate, Jamila Afghani has also chosen to support Women International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO).
“There will be a special portion of this [grant] attributed to a current large and overlooked crisis, which, in this year, is taking place in Yemen. But we look forward to having impact in as many places as we can – Afghanistan, as well as Yemen,” noted Dr. Noubar Afeyan, while Ruben Vardanyan clarified: “The choice of Yemen was done not by the Selection Committee or by Founders. It was done by the Finalists and Laureates who, between themselves, chose the country that really needs to be helped․”
Finally, in accordance with Aurora’s traditions, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Gurdjieff Ensemble and the Piccoli Cantori Veneziani Children Choir performed Pour toi, Arménie, written by the great late Charles Aznavour to raise funds and support the Armenians affected by the 1988 Spitak earthquake. This was followed by Erebuni, Yerevan with Haig Vosgueritchian on the organ. The bells of San Lazzaro, ringing as a sign of the humanity that is always awakened by the Aurora Prize, ended the Ceremony on a powerful note.